The Consul at Damascus (Keeley) to the Secretary of State

No. 329

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatches Nos. 285 and 296 of October 26 and December 4, 1925, respectively,69 in so far as they deal with representations to the French Authorities respecting the protection of foreigners in general and Americans in particular residing in Damascus, and to report the following additional developments along this line.

On February 9, 1926, at the instigation of this office, the Consular Corps addressed a note to M. Pierre Alype, Envoy Extraordinary in Damascus of the French High Commissioner, inviting his attention to the ease with which the rebels had recently been circulating in Damascus where they had kidnapped various persons and possessed themselves of their belongings. It was pointed out that there appeared to be nothing to prevent the same thing being done to foreigners, and he was requested to inform the Consuls whether or not he thought the condition of security in the city warranted any modification in the opinion expressed by General Soulé, the predecessor of General Andréa, and communicated to the Consuls on December 1, 1925, (see Enclosure No. 5 with despatch No. 296 of December 4, 1925) to see effect that the situation did not then seem to warrant advising foreigners to evacuate the city. A copy of the Consular Corps’ note, in French and in translation, is transmitted herewith.

[Page 137]

On February 19, 1926, M. Alype transmitted to the Dean of the Consular Corps a copy of General Andréa’s reply, dated February 13, 1926, to the questions raised in the Consular Corps’ note. Copies of each of these communications are transmitted herewith. They are self-explanatory.

Being unable to share General Andréa’s optimistic view of the situation as expressed in his letter, and the potential danger to Americans having been subsequently increased by the anti-Christian and anti-foreign feeling aroused by the action of Armenian irregulars who were sent into the Meidan Quarter on February 15th ostensibly against the rebels occupying that quarter … this Consulate on February 22, 1926, addressed a further note to M. Alype. A copy of the note, in English and in translation, is transmitted herewith.

It is believed that the Department will find my note of February 22nd self-explanatory. In order to avoid a possible misinterpretation of my motive in referring to the use of Armenian irregulars, however, it may be well to point out that it was from their use that Moslem feeling had become aroused to such an extent that a massacre of all Christians was not beyond probability and was thwarted not so much by any preventive action of the French Authorities as by the attitude of the more enlightened Moslems who, some because they realized the inexpediency of a massacre, others because they were really opposed to it on ethical grounds, counseled moderation to their coreligionists.

On February 25, 1926, not having received any response to my communication of the 22nd to the French Authorities, I addressed all Americans in Damascus individually, advising them to leave the city and district. A copy of one of these letters is transmitted herewith.70

Certain of the more loquacious members of the American colony upon receiving my letter proceeded to divulge its contents to their native friends with the result that within a few hours my advice to my nationals was quite generally known in the city and was being exaggerated by repetition.

Saturday morning, February 27, 1926, I received a personal note from General Andréa asking me whether I would be good enough to call upon him to discuss the matter of protecting my nationals. I called at three in the afternoon and passed an hour with the General who took up my letter of February 22nd point by point with me. He went into great detail in explaining the military measures taken for the defense of the city and assured me that he was prepared to guarantee foreigners in general and Americans in particular from the danger of any important attack from without and from serious disorders within the city.

[Page 138]

General Andréa made no reference to the letter advising Americans to leave the city, but being certain that he either then knew of it or would soon learn of it and perhaps misconstrue its intent, I broached the subject, showed him a copy of the letter and translated its contents. His previous cordial manner changed to a formal reserve as he pointed out that, diplomatically speaking, the letter was really a reflection upon his administration in that it declared the city to be unsafe, whereas he had just shown me that it was safe. I pointed out his admitted inability to guarantee Americans against the danger of stray shots which have recently killed a number of innocent pedestrians, and for that reason alone, if for no other, the warning to Americans was justified.

After a further exchange of opinions and friendly discussion of the rebellion, he became more cordial again, and as we parted he assured me that the safety of my nationals would be one of his chief concerns, that he would notify me immediately of impending danger, and that in the event of serious disorder within the city he would send a special guard to the Consulate for its protection and for that of any Americans who might take refuge there.

Yesterday I received from M. Alype his reply, dated March 1, 1926, to my note of February 22, 1926. A copy of M. Alype’s letter, in French and in translation, is transmitted herewith. It is self-explanatory.

I agree with M. Alype’s admission in the fifth [fourth] paragraph of his letter of March 1, 1926, to the effect that the situation in Damascus is still serious and must be followed with attention. I am pleased to report, however, that the situation within the city has ameliorated since my note of February 22, 1926, was written, but I cannot conscientiously grant that there is as complete security for foreign nationals established in Damascus as M. Alype would have me believe. I have no intention, however, of pursuing the discussion further with the Authorities along abstract lines, and I have therefore merely thanked M. Alype and General Andréa for their detailed exposition of the case, assuring them at the same time of my sincere desire to cooperate with them fully in this part of their difficult task.

I trust that the Department will approve the course pursued by me as outlined herein, since I am of the opinion that it, together with Mr. Knabenshue’s representations direct to the High Commissioner, has aroused the French Authorities locally to a better appreciation of their responsibility with respect to our nationals, a responsibility for which they have not on all occasions shown due regard.

I have [etc.]

J. H. Keeley, Jr.
[Page 139]
[Enclosure 1—Translation]

The Dean of the Consular Corps at Damascus (Smart)71 to the Envoy Extraordinary at Damascus (Alype) of the French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon (De Jouvenel)

Mr. Envoy Extraordinary: I am charged by the Consular Corps to make known to you its anxiety on the subject of the actual situation in the city of Damascus. While fully considering the momentary difficulties confronting the Authorities, the Consular Corps believes it necessary to point out the possibility of danger for the foreign colonies.

The foreigners are very much scattered in the city, and, for the most part, are not found in the limited zone that is covered by the troops. Recently, bands have circulated quite frequently in many quarters of the city, where they have carried away various persons and their belongings. It seems that nothing prevents these bands from doing the same with respect to the foreigners.

General Soulé in his letter No. 9335/1 of November 30 addressed to the Delegate, who communicated it to me as Dean under cover of his letter No. 9335 bis of the same date, expressed the opinion that the situation did not indicate that foreigners should be advised to leave the city. The Consular Corps would be grateful to you to be good enough to let it know if this advice should be modified in view of the present situation.

Meanwhile, the Consular Corps hopes that the Mandatory Authorities will take the necessary measures to assure the foreigners against the dangers, above-mentioned.

Accept [etc.]

W. A. Smart
[Enclosure 2—Translation]

The Envoy Extraordinary at Damascus (Alype) of the French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon (De Jouvenel) to the Dean of the Consular Corps at Damascus (Smart)

No. 2924/C

Mr. Dean: The 9th of February last, you were good enough to call my attention to the anxiety of the Consular Corps on the present situation in Damascus.

I hastened to bring this matter to the attention of General Andréa, and I have the honor to transmit to you herewith a copy of his answer.

I add that the fate of the foreign colonies is the object of all the solicitude of the Mandatory Power in Syria, and I beg you to accept, Mr. Dean, the assurance of my high consideration.

Pierre Alype
[Page 140]

The General Commanding the Troops of the Region of Damascus and of the Djebel Druse (Andréa) to the Envoy Extraordinary at Damascus (Alype) of the French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon (De Jouvenel)

No. /2

The kidnapping of persons to which the Dean of the Consular Corps refers has not failed to attract every attention of the Command.

The works of defense now in progress will make it possible within two weeks to prevent bands from entering the inner quarters which represent, after all, the most important part of the city. The elimination of the troublesome elements will follow.

Only the Meidan-Akrad and Mohajrin quarters will be left outside the barbed wire entanglements. Their defense will be entrusted to three groups of 50 partisans each.

I consider that, under these circumstances, the security of the foreign nationals will be adequately assured, and I cannot in consequence modify the advice previously expressed by General Soulé.

[Enclosure 3—Translation]

The American Consul at Damascus (Keeley) to the Envoy Extraordinary at Damascus (Alype) of the French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon (De Jouvenel)

Sir: I have the honor to refer to your letter No. 2924/C of February 19, 1926, addressed to the Dean of the Consular Corps, transmitting a copy of General Andréa’s reply to the Consular Corps’ note of February 9, 1926, respecting the anxiety of the Consuls for the safety of their nationals because of the condition of public security in Damascus.

The danger from the activities of the bands which prompted the Consular Corps’ note of February 9, 1926, has now been added to by the natural reaction against foreigners and Christians as a result of the recent activities of the Circassian and Armenian partisans in certain sections of the city.

Despite the optimistic tone of General Andréa’s communication, I feel sure that neither he nor you can now be unaware of the gravity of the present situation in Damascus or of the fact that further religious animosity and hatred of foreigners cannot fail to result from a continued use of Armenian partisans against the Moslems.

[Page 141]

While being sincerely appreciative of the solicitude for the safety of foreigners expressed by yourself and taking into account the measures of defense which General Andréa believes will eventually assure the security of foreigners, I regret to record that I am yet unable to view the situation with optimism. From information which I can no longer ignore I am forced to conclude that the present situation in Damascus is more serious than at any previous time. I must request, therefore, that adequate measures be taken immediately to safeguard the lives and property of American citizens, for the protection of which the Mandatory Government will be held strictly accountable.

In order to assist the Mandatory Authorities in this difficult task should grave disorders break out in the city an effort will be made to gather as many Americans as possible under the shelter of this Consulate.

I shall be grateful, therefore, to you and to General Andréa if you will advise me immediately of the start of any serious disorders.

A similar request addressed to your predecessor prior to the outbreak in October73 elicited assurances that Americans would be fully protected and that this Consulate would be promptly informed of the least sign of danger … I trust that you will understand, therefore, that this letter is prompted by solicitude for my nationals and by a sincere desire to cooperate fully with the French Authorities with the difficulty of whose task I am fully sympathetic.

I avail myself [etc.]

J. H. Keeley, Jr.
[Enclosure 4—Translation74]

The Envoy Extraordinary at Damascus (Alype) of the French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon (De Jouvenel) to the American Consul at Damascus (Keeley)

No. 5080/SP

Mr. Consul: You were good enough to invite my attention to the apprehension which the political situation in Damascus has caused you, and to the dangers that seemed to you would result to the Christian elements of this city, whether of Syrian origin or of foreign nationality.

Already, in a note which was transmitted to me by the Consular Corps on February 9, you made known to me your anxiety. I answered assuring you that General Andréa had taken sufficient military measures so that no threats could be put into execution in respect to your nationals dwelling in town and so that they would [Page 142] suffer no more from the repercussions of acts of banditry in the interior of Damascus.

General Andréa, to whom I communicated your letter of February 22, informs me that the apprehensions of which you make yourself the interpreter do not seem to him to correspond any longer to the present situation. After the clearing operations in the Meidan Quarter where a great number of bandits were killed, a certain agitation had, in fact, manifested itself among the Moslems against the Armenians and the Christians in general, but the measures taken immediately by the responsible authorities, as well as the advice to be calm which was given to the delegation of the notables, have greatly abated this feeling. You have yourself been able to note a conspicuous resumption of commercial activity.

I do not pretend that the situation in Damascus must not be followed with attention. It is still serious. General Andréa carries on very actively the work for the defense of the outskirts of the city. The barbed wire entanglement is completed and will be further strengthened.

This wirework, perfectly commanded at all points by the machine-gun fire from the barrage posts, is already a very effective guarantee against the incursions of bands into the interior of the city.

To prevent any insurrectionary movement in the city itself, strong patrols composed of French soldiers, commanded by officers of our army and aided by gendarmes, policemen and partisans, patrol, night and day, the different quarters.

General Andréa considers, under these circumstances, that he will be kept accurately in touch with the state of mind of the population, and will be able, in case of necessity, to take immediate measures which will enable him to maintain order and peace.

I am glad to bring this information to your knowledge, and I hope it will allay the apprehension which you have manifested. The French Authority assumes at this moment the responsibility of maintaining order in Syria, and its first care is to see that a security as complete as possible, in view of events, be given to the foreign nationals settled in Damascus.

You will be good enough to grant that it is not lacking.

Accept [etc.]

Pierre Alype
  1. Neither printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. British consul at Damascus.
  4. File translation revised.
  5. See telegram of Oct. 28, 1925, 4 p.m., from the consul at Beirut, and subsequent papers, Foreign Relations, 1925, vol. ii, pp. 112 ff.
  6. File translation revised.